Overreactions from Steelers Nation: Who will be the backup quarterback?

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation” a weekly column where I poke fun at fans, reporters, and so-called experts while trying to figure out if some of these hot takes are real – or just for attention.

You read this one right this week Steelers Nation. We’re now concerned with who this year’s quarterback will be. Not the starting quarterback, mind you. No, that was determined last year.

We’re now discussing the backup quarterback who will play behind Kenny Pickett in 2023.

I could sum this entire article up with two words: “Who cares?!” But yinz know me better, I won’t let it go that easily… but seriously, who cares?!

Apparently, however, this is a hot topic. In the last few days alone I’ve seen Pittsburgh beat writers bring up both of last year’s backups.

The first, started as the starter. That would be Mitchell Trubisky, who was also named a team captain and continued in that role throughout the year, despite being benched during Week 4’s game against the New York Jets.

Trubisky, the former second-overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft (by the Chicago Bears), was a higher profile veteran signing last offseason, where speculation was abound as to who would replaced the newly retired Ben Roethlisberger. Trubisky’s name has floated around recently, because some who cover the team struggle with the ability to accept they were wrong about him. No siree, they say, Trubisky is still valuable to the team.

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You even heard Steelers President Arthur J. Rooney II answer a question about Trubisky in various interviews, stating he wouldn’t mind having him return. Apparently, that was enough to “complicate” the matter in the terms of those who write clickbait: it’s about as official as Moses coming down with stone tablets from the mountain. Trubisky will be back, they say, proclaiming a second coming for a player who “didn’t get a fair shot”.

It’s a really strange flex for those same writers who felt Mason Rudolph didn’t get a fair shake. Trubisky has had 55 career starts as a pro to try and impress. Rudolph? A whopping ten. But in both cases, there are some arguments for retaining someone behind Pickett, who will enter his second year as a pro and only has 12 starts to his own name.

My guess would be that Trubisky is on the short end of the totem pole, accounting for a $10.2 million cap hit, of which $8 million can be saved by releasing him this offseason. Despite what some think, that’s the most likely path for the quarterback who promptly mentioned his “regret” by signing with Pittsburgh so quickly. $8 million can be spent elsewhere, such as half the cost for another veteran passer, such as what the Steelers spent on Rudolph in 2022.

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Yet, Rudolph should be gone too. There’s little to indicate he was pleased with how the “competition” for the starting quarterback job went last summer. The entire offseason was a train wreck for the former third round pick, as the Steelers brought back Dwayne Haskins, then signed Trubisky during the legal free agency tampering period.

Pickett’s selection in the draft all but sealed that it would be an uphill battle for Rudolph to ascend the depth chart. If anything would make him feel unwanted, it would be how many other quarterbacks the Steelers kept around to make sure they weren’t stuck with him.

Then to add insult to injury, his name was placed second on the first regular season depth chart, only to be moved down to third due to what head coach Mike Tomlin coined a “clerical error”.

If you were either of these two players, would you feel well enough to return to their situations from last season? I know I wouldn’t. That creates the quandary of who will be the next in line behind Pickett when training camp opens up late in the summer?

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I jokingly answers this with “who cares?” earlier in this column, and that’s primarily true. Do we ever want to see a backup quarterback in action? No. (Then again, there are some who would say it doesn’t matter since Matt Canada is still the Steelers offensive coordinator too!)

It seems, usually, the backup is the favorite guy in town – that is, until he has to play! How many times have fans groaned about seeing Landry Jones or Mason Rudolph? Somehow, those two had on-par (or even better) stats than some true fan favorites, like Charlie Batch or Devlin Hodges. (Remember him?)

That may seem blasphemous to some, but Batch only threw 12 touchdowns, to 12 interceptions, in 9 starts (33 appearances) for the Steelers over an eight-year span.

He too was a failed starting quarterback with high praise, who became the wily veteran backing up Big Ben. Batch is best known for beating the Ravens, in a game which was won off of Shawn Suisham’s foot – one week after Batch led the Steelers offense to turning the ball over seven times in Cleveland.

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Byron Leftwich and Michael Vick are other former starters who once took up the mantle too, with mixed results.

But none of these names are really remembered for how they performed on the field. Thus, does it really matter who the backup is? Chances are, it will be another retread, such as Jacoby Brissett, Teddy Bridgewater, or perhaps an old division foe, such as Andy Dalton.

Anyone wanting more, or calling the Steelers a “failure” if they don’t secure an All-Star who will stand on the sidelines with a clipboard, is missing the point: if this player were starter capable, then they would be starting somewhere else.

That’s why we shouldn’t concern ourselves too much with who the backup quarterback is, Except for in extreme cases, if you start seeing that guy trot out onto the field, you’re more than likely kissing the season goodbye, regardless of who they are.

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